Signals To Watch for In 2022

Understanding possible futures is all about signals – and there is no shortage of them. A dominant conversation these days is focused on how to sense these signals, derive foresight, and respond. While foresight helps us see possible futures, the next challenge is moving from a high degree of uncertainty to some level of actionable certainty. That step in the process is a combination of science and art. Signals manifest themselves through the current and emerging building blocks that shape our future – and they are coming at us from every corner of society. Since I don’t believe in prediction, I will focus my year-end post on signals to look for in 2022 across four key areas.

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The Changing World Order

Ray Dalio is the Co-Chief Investment Officer & Chairman of Bridgewater Associates, In making decisions, he has found history to be very instructive. This is a recurring theme that I write about often, as I view history as a key source of signals. I’ve included links that explore these signals below. In exploring possible futures, it is helpful to understand the patterns of history – and they really do rhyme. In the book The Fourth Turning, the authors describe what the cycles of history tells us about our next rendezvous with destiny. What intrigued me as a Futurist is the claim by the books authors that our past can indeed predict our future – it’s a compelling argument when viewed through the lens of these historical cycles.

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RethinkX: Crashing Up, Crashing Down – Two Dystopias 

In this seventh installment of the RethinkX rethinking humanity series, Tony Seba and James Arbib describe the choices that lie ahead, as convergence across five foundational sectors drive a phase change: energy, transport, information, food, and materials. With this convergence, the old industrial system could collapse before the new production system emerges. One need only look at existing timing issues as the energy sector transitions. Supply of fossil fuel drops along with investment, while demand increases and clean sources of energy cannot meet demand. In a shift so profound, it may be impossible to imagine what it looks like. The power of this storytelling lies in its ability to illuminate possibilities and drive awareness – and with it, the hope for human action. Similar brilliant storytelling can be found in the new book AI 2041.

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AI 2041: Ten Visions For Our Future

In a recent post on quantum computing, I referenced a new book (published in September 2021) that I recently added to my library. The book titled AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future was authored by Kai-Fu Lee  and Chen Qiufan. The authors use highly effective approach that combined fiction with expert analysis to help the reader imagine possible futures. The storytelling was brilliant (my compliments Chen Qiufan), and Kai-Fu Lee provides analysis after each story, showcasing his grasp of AI and its possible applications.

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RethinkX: The Growth and Collapse of Industrial Civilization

In this fourth installment of the RethinkX rethinking humanity series, Tony Seba and James Arbib describe a civilization that now stands at the precipice. We lose sight of the fact that we invented the political and economic systems of our time. When the organizing system is no longer suited for a new era, we have the power to reinvent. Reinvention however requires a willingness to look beyond our current beliefs, institutions, and mental models. If we view this phase transition through our traditional lens, our solutions will fall short. The power of this video series lies in its ability to illuminate the size of the challenge. This is not a story of disruption, this is nothing short of a phase transition between eras.

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RethinkX: Repeating The Patterns Of History

In a brilliant third installment of an eight part series, RethinkX explores the lessons of history. In analyzing the patterns from the age of extraction, the video zeros in on the cycles of history and the warning signals that should be flashing bright red. History is very instructive – but if we do not learn from it, we are destined to make the same mistakes. Consider for example the eerie similarities between the 1920s and our current day:

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The Building Blocks Of Our Future

In a post from 2019, I described the building blocks that established our modern society. It was convergence across multiple domains that shaped our current world. From the post:

A century ago, a convergence across domains ushered in unprecedented advancements in human development. As Robert J. Gordon describes, the special century (1870 – 1970) that followed the Civil War was made possible by a unique clustering of what Mr. Gordon calls the great inventions. The great inventions of the second industrial revolution significantly improved our well-being. In his view, the economic revolution of 1870-1970 was unique in human history, unrepeatable because many of its achievements could only happen once. What makes this century so special, is that these inventions altered what until then, was a life lived in misery. 

Frank Diana – Convergence

I captured many of those building blocks in a visual that I use to tell this story (click on the visual to open in a separate window).

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The Good Future: A Perspective Via Gerd Leonhard

We must make the right decisions now, if we want a good future

Gerd Leonhard – The Good Future is entirely possible, and it’s our choice!

That quote from fellow Futurist Gerd Leonhard comes from a recent film he produced to convey optimism about our ability to create a good future. He opens with several statements that are core to my beliefs about our emerging future. He states that what we have done for the last one hundred years is no longer going to be suitable for the future. In other words what got us here won’t get us there. It was back in 2013 when I wrote about the structural change expected in the future. Much like my belief that structures and institutions will change, Gerd believes that the current system is unfit for the future, driving the need for a different logic. He mentions something that he has been saying for years: science fiction is becoming science fact. In exploring the possibilities of a good future, he starts with a question: what does good look like? He proposes a definition of good that includes relationships, experiences, the planet, purpose, and prosperity.

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The Critical Need For Foresight

Foresight is growing in importance – and it is great to see leaders focused here. In this world of complexity, uncertainty, and rapid pace, generating foresight is not easy. It is a moving target, with change dynamics altering even the safest predictions. We need look no further than the impact of COVID-19 on the pictures of possible futures we were painting just 18 months ago. As difficult as it is, we are fortunate to have people like Alexandra Whittington around to help. She recently tweeted a pandemic influenced view of the future of population, work, and lifestyles.

In some cases, COVID-19 exacerbated trends that already existed. For example, birthrates were already dropping around the world, a phenomenon that grew more acute in the past 18 months. Africa was viewed as the outlier, contributing to future population growth even in the face of declining fertility rates. If the 2020 Oxfam study referenced in the visual below is accurate, a reversing of family planning gains could drive more growth.

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Thoughts On Adaptability And Resilience

As mentioned in my recent posts, it was 2017 when I participated in a discussion with TCS CTO Ananth Krishnan and CIO extraordinaire Hassan El Bouhali. An animated video was produced to capture a dialog that was initiated as part of an online leadership course focused on the future. The first post launched segment one, which focused on Seeing the Future. The second described the need to relentlessly Rehearse the Future. Given the number of shifts likely to occur, and the pace at which they arise, our ability to adapt is of utmost importance. Here is the abstract for this series followed by the final segment focused on adaptability and resilience.

ABSTRACT: Perspectives on the Journey

A key message in the Reimagining the Future body of work is that our rapidly emerging future challenges every aspect of how we do business, how we govern and how we live. It will drive significant strategic, tactical and structural changes and fundamentally alter our long-standing beliefs, success strategies and institutional constructs. We’re already seeing it. Just look at companies like Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, Tencent, Google, Alibaba and Facebook. They are rewriting the rules and redefining how value is created and captured, using digitally-centered platforms and ecosystem-enabled business models.

As complexity and pace continue to intensify, uncertainty increases and volatility comes to the forefront. Our daily challenges do not disappear however, making the balance between pragmatism and future thinking critical. I invited two business leaders to share their insights and perspectives on the complexity of this transformative journey and the leadership challenges that emerge.

Perspectives On The Journey 2.0 – Rehearsing The future With Ananth Krishnan And Hassan El Bouhali

As mentioned in my recent post, it was 2017 when I participated in a discussion with TCS CTO Ananth Krishnan and CIO extraordinaire Hassan El Bouhali. An animated video was produced to capture a dialog that was initiated as part of an online leadership course focused on the future. The earlier post launched segment one, which focused on Seeing the Future. Given the uncertainty, volatility, and pace of our world, we can only see possible paths. That makes the second piece of the discussion critical: rehearsing the future. Here is the abstract for this series followed by segment two.

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Seismic Shocks In The Never Normal

Thinking it’s going back to the calm old normal, forget it. It’s a world of volatility. That’s what I call the never normal.

Peter Hinssen – Thriving in the Never Normal

I obviously agree with that quote for the most part. I would argue that the old normal wasn’t all that calm. It took a pandemic to illuminate what was lurking beneath the surface. However, this is a brilliant short keynote on the decade ahead. It is loaded with great quotes and examples of reinvention. Holding on to the past is a losing strategy, as a funny segment in the video makes clear:

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Innovating In An Uncertain World

Two words have come up frequently in leadership dialog: Innovation and Ecosystems. Several posts have described ecosystems and the dominant role they are likely to play in future economic activity. The number of organizations pursuing ecosystem-related initiatives is growing rapidly. Innovation on the other hand has been a topic of conversation for most of our economic history. Yet, something is different. The conversation about innovation culture is intensifying and the need for an innovation mindset to permeate the organization is increasingly recognized. Why? What changed? We can attribute some of the change to uncertainty. One could argue that business has always operated in uncertain environments. I would argue that a number of factors make the uncertainty in our current environment unique, comparable only at some level to past transformative periods in history. We then must consider complexity, pace, volatility, unpredictability, and the unexpected.

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Reimagining A Post-Pandemic Future

Exactly four years ago I had the pleasure of participating in a OpenSAP thought leadership course titled: Reimagining the Future – A Journey Through the Looking Glass. That course is still available and can be taken Here. The program director for that course recently reached out to pick up the conversation. Robert Nichols produces a Podcast titled OpenSAP Invites. We had a great conversation that this time included colleague Kevin Benedict. You can read the abstract and listen to the podcast below . A full transcript and more detail are available on the OpenSAP Invites site.


SESSION ABSTRACT

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Navigating Technology Futures

Mike Bechtel recently shared a World Economic Forum Report that introduces a framework for thinking about the future. Having read through it, I highly recommend the approach to Future Thinking described by the authors. A very powerful part of their work is the use of Storytelling. Several scenarios are explored to showcase the framework’s ability to identify probable and possible futures, while the stories help us imagine and feel those scenarios. The stories are very impactful, placing us in these various futures in a way that helps us understand the world that is emerging. My compliments to the authors and gratitude to Mike for sharing it.

A Renewed Focus On Our journey

In late 2017, we produced a video as part of a leadership course that focused on seeing the future at some level and rehearsing it in ways that advance it. In the last two weeks Hassan El Bouhali (a participant in the session) shared six different segments from the video on LinkedIn. The posts attracted a great deal of attention, triggering a thought to produce a follow up video. I covered the initial video back in 2018 via a blog post titled Perspectives on the Journey. TCS CTO Ananth Krishnan participated in the original session, driving a dynamic discussion with Hassan. I’ll bring the band back together to look back on our views from 2017, and look forward to what may lie ahead. In the meantime, here is the full video that supports the various segments that Hassan shared.

Zooming Out, Then In

A recent Article builds upon my Strategy post from yesterday. Written by Colin Iles, the article focuses on the need for leaders to set their short term priorities based on expectations about what the world might look like in ten years. Often, leaders feel that ten years is too long a time horizon – but the future is approaching faster than people think. This speed dynamic forces us to embrace a New Way of Thinking, one that enables us to see the future, rehearse it, and adapt to its inevitable shifts.

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The Future is Faster than you Think

In a recent Interview, Peter Diamandis talks about the rapid pace of innovation and how it is about to get a lot quicker. Diamandis has always had a positive outlook on the path of innovation – and although I share his optimism, there is no disputing societies need to map that Path. His ability to explore possible futures is very instructive, as leaders everywhere must understand the potential to advance our human development.

Mr. Diamandis believes we will see more change in the coming decade than we have in the last 100 years. He speaks of the Convergence of building blocks in the science and technology domains which contribute to the quickening pace. I’ve explored this notion of intersections in the past, but with a broadened focus. Convergence is occurring across multiple domains, not just science and technology. That additional convergence across society, economy, geopolitics, environment, philosophy, and business introduces a set of additional accelerants – but they also create obstacles.

In looking at possible futures, here are some of his predictions:

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Looking at Possible Futures

Many Future Scenarios are spawned by convergence across multiple domains. The most obvious Convergence is occurring between science and technology. I have been posting links to numerous articles that explore possible futures. These futures are important for us to understand, as they usher in a very Pivotal Decade. Here is another set of articles that help us envision the future.

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Can History Point to Possible Futures?

A view into history helps us better understand the future. A recent Article describes this phenomenon in detail, exploring how to apply historical reasoning to the future. I have invested considerable time in understanding the Cycles of History and how they help us better understand the future. As Future Thinking becomes an increasingly bigger part of a leaders agenda, a historical perspective provides valuable input. As described in the article, the goal is to reason well, using an understanding of history to think more clearly about a range of possible futures and how probable a given outcome might be.

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